“It still makes me cry”: Healthcare over the holidays, part 2

A series on what it’s like to work the festive season. Our second installment: The most difficult cases.

What’s it like to work in an emergency room over Christmas and New Year’s? We asked the more than 500,000 healthcare professionals on Figure 1, our global case-sharing platform over the weekend of Dec. 5–6, 2015. Here are some of their best replies.

I was working Christmas Eve, 1992, when we responded to a report of chest pain. He refused to go. Two hours later, we were called back because he had arrested. His wife was hysterical and despite our efforts, he was pronounced dead at the hospital. It still makes me cry.
Tonya D. Whiten, paramedic, Georgia.

Every holiday has its challenges: Fingers on the 4th, electric knife on Thanksgiving, but Christmas time is always the worst. Depression that was manageable throughout the year seems to boil over for many. The sheer increase of suicide attempts is really sad to see as a paramedic. From the cry-for-help attempts to the given-up-entirely successes, it is a time of year to deal with the patients’ sadness as we contend with our own demons.
Kanen Terry, paramedic, Illinois.

The first year out of nursing school I of course had to work on Christmas. I got floated to ICU from med-surg and had a horrible evening shift. My roommate had gone home for the holidays and I went home to an empty apartment and just cried. It was awful.
Pediatric nurse, Nebraska.

In my 25 years in nursing, I’ve noticed there’s no rhyme or reason to holidays. I’ve found that either nothing happens and census is way down or the polar opposite. Probably the worst holiday is Christmas. Seems sudden, unexpected deaths occur more during that holiday then any other. I believe all nurses have had those holiday shifts, some more memorable than others. Mine was a Christmas shift and had three code blues (cardiac arrests). Only one survived. Then you have the families, hoping that if they can get their loved one to you, they will live. They have brought this noncompliant loved one in multiple times before and you have saved them. Why would this be any different? Especially since it’s Christmas. “Why would you let my loved one die?” is what one family member said to me. Unexpected deaths also tear the nurse to their core. Not every Christmas I worked turned out that way, but I wonder about the families who have to face each holiday with a chair that’s empty.
Janice Haney, hospital supervisor with ICU history, Washington.

I don’t have any holidays during Christmas. I will be working in shifts like usual. Thinking about that makes me hate Christmas songs.
Pediatric nurse, Malaysia.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked into a patient’s room to find them sad, mad, or crying because they want to be home. I have to assess them anyway, so I figure why not take that time to talk to them and try to make them feel better? I also bring in crossword puzzles/word finds for them to have something to do. I also notice that patients and family members tend to be a little nicer during the holidays.
Registered Nurse, Ohio.

During my internship as a student in the hospital, I met a patient. She was hospitalized for a complication to an abdominal surgery. I can’t remember what it was, but I remember her. She remained in hospital for a year and I met her in various departments. She taught me how to face suffering: never a complaint, never an unkind word. An exemplary woman. I remember how the last time she was able to smile was when she was taken in her bed to beside the Christmas tree. She died the next morning. Since then, every time I look at Christmas lights, I think of her.
Registered Nurse, Italy.

Share and discuss real-time medical cases with dedicated medical professionals like these on the Figure 1 app. Interested in learning more about Figure 1? Email us at communications@figure1.com

Other installments in this series:

The most difficult cases.

Missing your loved ones.

The holiday rush.

Care when it matters most.